dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

Why do people say 'after dark' when what they mean is 'during dark'? After dark would be when it's light again, right? * There are 10 types of people in this world -- those who read binary, and those who don't. * I'm rethinking the whole brown rice thing. What if it's just more white liberal self-hatred? Whole wheat, honey, unbleached flour. All better. Sez who? * Eugene should be HQ for White People for Diversity. We'll fight for diversity to be included in books, which is where we know to look for it. * Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, but give a man a pillow, and he'll dream of steak. * What can you say about a state that puts the town of North Bend 225 miles southwest of Bend? We rely on visitors for entertainment.

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Supreme Court Prefers Self-Governance

July 3rd, 2015 · No Comments

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As the Supreme Court wrapped up its season, the swings and the misses behind the final scores can get lost behind the headlines. Chief Justice John Roberts continued his fierce protection of the institution he’s been charge to lead.

In his dissent of the majority’s ruling to allow same-sex marriage in all 50 states, Roberts wrote: “If you are among the many Americans—of whatever sexual orientation—who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”

He’s almost right. “Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” is in the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. Same with “all men are created equal.” The Constitution is a mechanism by which we hope to attain our Declared and Independent ideals.

What Roberts may have meant, if his drafting was inartful, was that this ruling and others like it should invoke no celebration for self-governance. If the Supreme Court’s role is to call strikes and balls, Roberts may rightly bemoan the electorate’s modern refusal to swing the bat.

Roberts would have preferred that states settle their own scores with citizens seeking to marry. In another dissent issued the next day, he rehearsed how the system is supposed to work: “The [17th] Amendment resulted from an arduous, decades-long campaign in which reformers across the country worked hard to garner approval from Congress and three-quarters of the States. What chumps! Didn’t they realize that all they had to do was interpret the constitutional term ‘the Legislature’ to mean ‘the people’? The Court today performs just such a magic trick with the Elections Clause.”

And yet, two days earlier, he saved Obamacare by using the same magic trick by interpreting the phrase “established by the state” to mean “established by the state or the federal government.” Roberts rightly scolded Congress that the Affordable Care Act offers “more than a few examples of inartful drafting.”

Congress could have remedied the problem by simply amending the bill, but they refused. They could have bowed to public opinion (as they and then-President Clinton did just a few years ago) and drafted a New Defense of Marriage Act to right the wrong of marriage inequality, but they didn’t. The bat rested on the shoulder.

In both cases, Congress left the legislating to the Supreme Court, which is what Roberts insists we should not be celebrating. And again, he’s right. Congress is broken and self-governance is imperiled. The president pledges to improve people’s lives with his phone and his pen. The Supremes willingly inject common sense to inartful legislative prose. The people are not consulted, much less represented.

How did 435 representatives become so unrepresentative? In a word, gerrymandering.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, gerrymandering is the modern version of ballot stuffing, but it’s perfectly legal because the “stuffing” now includes each vote’s voter. Stuffing your ballot boxes is not legal, but stuffing your district with your preferred voters is.

Arizona voters decided they’d had enough of that, so they drafted and passed a referendum that created an Independent Redistricting Commission. The lawmakers sued, citing the Constitution’s words, but they lost.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the opinion, insisting that the referendum was a legitimate legislative tool. When the people legislate for themselves, they are a legislature. Arizona voters prevailed without “the arduous, decades-long campaign” that Roberts would have preferred, but the system cannot fix itself when the system is what’s broken.

If Roberts chooses to celebrate the Constitution, he may find comfort in its preamble. His court can play a significant role to “ensure domestic tranquility.” States will follow Arizona with similar election reforms. People can marry whomever they choose. Those who are sick will get affordable care.

The mechanics of governance may not have worked as well as Roberts would have liked, but spirit of the Constitution prevailed. “We the people” are forming a more perfect union.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

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Saving Civic’s Spirit

July 3rd, 2015 · 2 Comments

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I come to bury Civic, not to raze it. The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.

The sooner we put this week’s devastating fire behind us, the faster we’ll rekindle the pride and collective momentum that its last days portrayed.

Civic’s story focuses naturally on its origin and lifespan. Any of us would be satisfied if we touched as many lives in our 77 years. We may still have among us a few of those citizens who voted to tax themselves in May 1938 to pay off the structure’s outstanding liens. Some of the timber families who donated the materials have never left. Together, they embodied then the single-name we gave for its result: “Civic.”

The past few months have matched those glorious beginnings. Again, the city government stepped up, issued a clarion call for its citizens and business owners to do something civic by doing something for Civic. The call was answered, against all probability. We’re sometimes a town that doesn’t care about the odds. Maybe we’re just not that good at math, or maybe we believe in our core that our passions will carry the day.

It doesn’t much matter what the root of this peculiarity is — it’s deep inside us and we recognize it. It’s the good that’s in our bones.

“It’s like a lot of good things that happen in communities,” Mayor Kitty Piercy said in early April. “It takes real­ly dedicated people who put in a lot of time and use their resources and contacts to try and make things move.” She may have said “communities,” but I believe she meant “this community.”

If we’re to stay true to our best selves expressed in Civic in May 1938 and again in April 2015, we must move forward with the same collective resolve. The next few months must match the last few.

The forces that dedicated themselves to saving Civic envisioned sports and recreation continuing on the site. Soccer is part of the vision, as is a field house for Kidsports. We must honor the vision and dedication of those people. (Sorry, Fred Meyer.) We want only one thing more — whatever we call what rises there, it should represent what we consider “civic.”

Sadly, we now have a leveled playing field — options that may not have seemed feasible before might make more sense now. We have an opportunity here and now to survey our situation and ask again some questions that may be answered differently now.

Eugene just hosted the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. University of Oregon won both the men’s and women’s NCAA Track and Field Championships just a few weeks ago. Phil Knight announced he’s planning to step down as Chairman of the Board for Nike. Vin Lananna unveiled plans for an eight-city professional track and field league. Michael Schill has arrived on campus amid hopes that he can lead the University of Oregon’s $2-billion capital campaign as its 18th president.

Taking all those bits of news together, here’s a question I find myself asking: Is now the time, and is 2077 Willamette Street the place, to build an indoor track and field complex? UO became a football powerhouse only after building the Moshofsky Center in 1997, giving athletes and coaches an indoor training facility.

A similar gift to the track and field program may fit this time and place perfectly.

Schill knows that fundraising relies on a lead gift — one that creates a buzz for the whole campaign. Creating a cousin for Hayward Field and a year-round Tracktown USA might do exactly that.

It must also accommodate soccer and Kidsports, and not look from the street like a misplaced Costco. It must excite both university donors and neighborhood leaders. It must become the hub of activity envisioned by the Eugene Civic Alliance. It must stand as a monument of collaboration between the college and the town — in this college town.

It must embody the good that is now interred with the bones of what was — and must become again — our beloved Civic.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs here.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Arr-Gee published · Chamber · Civic · Urban Design · You-gene

Quiet Desperation Getting Less Quiet and More Desperate

June 26th, 2015 · 1 Comment

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Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden in 1854: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Lately that desperation has become less quiet. Places and names tell the whole story, over and over again.

Ferguson, Missouri: Michael Brown. Staten Island, New York: Eric Garner. North Charleston, South Carolina: Walter Scott. Baltimore, Maryland: Freddie Gray.

And now Eugene, Oregon: Brian Babb.

Babb differs from the others in two ways that shouldn’t be important, but are. First, he had a gun. Second, he’s white.

Babb fired a shot into the floor of his room almost an hour before police arrived. He told his therapist he wanted “to see how it sounded.” He drew his gun again when confronted by police, prompting a fatal bullet in response.

If only one detail had differed, a thousand other details would then be changed, followed by a thousand more and another thousand after that. Life would have gone on. Instead, there’s an end, but only for him. Others must go on, hoping to find the tiniest shred of sense in what remains. Quiet desperation becomes contagious.

Our nation seems to go through spates of tragedies that echo each other, amplifying our collective pain. Shootings go from schools to shopping centers to movie theaters. Epidemics spread from ebola in Brooklyn and New Hampshire to measles at Disneyland.

The latest pattern shows the troubled and defenseless, losing their lives to police who are trying to maintain order. With each successive instance, the pressure mounts for charges to be filed against the police, as if that will somehow even the ledger.

It’s horrifically sad that retribution so often equates with justice. People exult in bloodlusty victory when police are charged with criminal intent, as if two lives shortened is somehow better than one. Often it’s the people closest to the victim who are the ones begging protesters to settle themselves down.

This is not an unimportant detail.

Those who knew the victim cannot readily embrace the cause. The grief about what happened comes first.

Never confuse the map with the territory. Only they have actually been to the place that others describe so well. If only we could listen first to those who have earned the right to speak, but our media are less discriminating or follow different rules than you and me.

They talk as if directly to us. They speak as if they knew the man. Neither is true, but our mental filters can’t quite keep up with what we already know. Like 1960s housewives afraid to offend the Fuller Brush salesman at the door — we let them in, knowing that we shouldn’t.

The desperation drama blares before us. The places and names change, but the story stays the same. Police seek to maintain order. Operation fails. R.I.P., the disaffected and disempowered. If only things were different.

African Americans have a special burden. For a century and a half, we’ve conflated race and class, performing an emotional shell game, hiding the pea under the complaint not given. If race is the obstacle, then it would go away with economic improvement. If poverty is the root, well, there are plenty of poor whites who don’t take to the streets. Each solution is designed to mismatch the problem.

But now the President and First Lady have self-identified as Black, even if it’s only literally three-quarters true. Class doesn’t reach any higher than the White House, so the desperation has a new clarity. The ache has become a pierce — an entirely different kind of pain.

On the other side of the scrimmage, police must keep order against two adversaries in unwitting cahoots. The disaffected are actively opposing with rocks held by nothing-to-lose fists, while the unenthused are holding their phones, wishing only for peace and quiet — but mostly quiet — so they can finish their business at hand.

Strategic asymmetry has been studied only in warfare, so it’s off to war they go, in armored vehicles, using military formations, dressed in battle fatigues. It looks like war.

Another Thoreau adage from Walden comes to mind: “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.”


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

→ 1 CommentTags: arr-gee thumbnails · Civic · Deep · Media · Psycho · Pure Pol · You-gene

Public Relations is Helping/Killing Journalism

June 26th, 2015 · No Comments

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Modern newspaper economics offers the confounding conundrum. Most newspapers are struggling mightily to maintain both their readership and the advertisers who follow those readers. But not all newspapers hew to that troubling trend. The danger appears most pronounced for virtually all newspapers in the middle.

At the very top of the readership demographic, some large metropolitan newspapers are finding new causes for optimism. The New York Times and now the Washington Post are innovating at an accelerated pace, hoping to reach a new stability that The Wall Street Journal already has found.

Sophisticated readers in large numbers, unbound by limits of location, are giving these companies reason to hope that their on-line presence can one day be rewarded with the same loyal following — among readers and advertisers — that their newsprint editions have earned in the past.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, small newspapers seem to be weathering the storm of the Internet pretty well. Some put their content online for free. Some charge for it. Others keep it out of the Internet’s maw altogether.

Warren Buffett, no slouch at forecasting economic trends, raised more than a few eyebrows when he went on a spending spree, buying up dozens of small-town newspapers. The relative health of community newspapers has gone largely unnoticed because their mastheads have names that no one would recognize.

We’re transfixed by the terrible plight of almost all the newspapers in the middle — too small to garner a national audience, but too large to run photos of every softball league champion. The Internet may not be to blame.

I worked for daily newspapers when they became overrun with efficiency-minded consumer product managers. I was in the neighborhood when the Los Angeles Times was eviscerated by Mark Willes, a manager who learned his craft at General Mills selling Cheerios. He earned his nickname, the “cereal killer,” by laying off hundreds in the largest newsroom on the West Coast.

In my last six months working for a group of daily newspapers on the eastern edge of Los Angeles County, we had chocolate cake on eight different Fridays. Chocolate cake meant somebody was leaving — retiring, taking a buy-out, heading in a new direction, leaving to find themselves. (It was southern California, after all.)

Every one of those chocolate cakes was for a journalist leaving the profession. Six had taken jobs in public relations. Five of those were going to work for an agency or company that had been part of their beat as a reporter.

Meanwhile, our newsroom fax machine was replaced by three fax machines. More than half our ex-reporters were writing their stories for new bosses and faxing them to the newsroom as press releases. We hadn’t lost reporting talent. We had outsourced it.

But we didn’t explain any of this to the public. Since a newspaper’s first product is trust, this was not a small oversight. It may be what is quietly killing newspapers everywhere. There’s now an extra layer between much of what happens in a town and the stories we publish. There’s still proverbial shoe-leather involved, but it’s no longer on the foot of the newspaper.

People notice when there’s a reporter in the room, so it shouldn’t be surprising that they also notice when there’s no reporter in the room. And yet a story appears in the newspaper offering quotes and as-if-you-were-there details. If they were there and they know the newspaper wasn’t, they’re right to wonder who was.

They may question the newspaper’s veracity then about other things that are described on its pages. They can read about the same events from other sources, sometimes carrying the exact same quotes. A blogger may have an unusual perspective on the event, but at least he or she was in the room.

Very small newspapers have not learned to rely on press releases,. The largest newspapers have staff to pursue stories on their own or readers sophisticated enough to understand the role public relations plays in newsgathering.

Public relations gave newspapers efficient access to the skilled labor of storytelling, but at a terribly high price.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

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Self-Driving Cars Have Arrived (Almost)

June 26th, 2015 · 6 Comments

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They say self-driving cars are coming. I say they’re here. I rented a car last week that didn’t leave very much of the driving to me.

My own car is 20 years old, so the changes I experienced this week have probably been emerging slowly. I’ve been technologically asleep when it comes to automobiles, but sometimes Rip Van Winkle can see things more clearly because nothing helps awareness like a couple of good decades’ sleep.

First, the car wouldn’t let me start it. There’s a key, but not for the ignition. In roughly the same place there’s now a button you press to start the car, with a light that indicates whether it’s on. I hit the start button, but it wouldn’t start unless my foot was pressed against the brake pedal. Thankfully, when the car refused to start, it didn’t know where my foot was; only that it wasn’t where it needed to be.

Once the engine was running, I could back out of my parking space. Once in reverse, the screen that told me where to put my foot now showed me where the car was going. Superimposed over the camera image, the car drew lines to show where the car would end up if I continued, not unlike how commentators use grease pencils to embellish sport replays. The car did all the work. There was nothing for me to turn my pretty little head about.

Admittedly, the actual driving was still up to me. I could set the cruise control if I wanted to give up this small modicum of control, but I wasn’t about to do that. Meanwhile, the car was busy deciding where the air conditioner should blow its air, based on which seats were being pressed on.

Door locks went down as soon as the car started moving. Whether that was locking others out or me inside was not a question I dared to ask.

The passenger side air bag was automatically disengaged when no one was sitting there. When somebody was, the car chimed like a department store elevator until the seat belt was fastened. I tried to trick the car by piling books and luggage on the seat beside me, but it wasn’t fooled. Somewhere in its circuitry, it was snickering at me.

It told me how far and how fast I was driving. It showed my fuel efficiency — or rather, its own fuel efficiency when driven by the likes of me.

Once it started getting dark, I worried that I didn’t turn the lights on. Later, when I saw they came on automatically, I worried that couldn’t turn them off. Then I worried that I had too little to worry about. When I stopped the car, the headlights went off and the dome light came on. These cars have been watching us. They can predict our every move.

I exited the car, feeling disconcerted. Then I heard a rhythmic beeping. There were no other cars around, so I knew I was now in conversation with my rental car. Like a crying infant, I wanted to ask what was wrong. I checked the tires. They didn’t need to be changed. I had noted the fuel gauge. It wasn’t hungry. It wasn’t too warm or too cold. So what exactly was the problem?

The car had been uncooperative when my foot was in the wrong place. Now it was unhappy for some other reason. We were in conversation about my personal failings. The car and I were in an uncomfortable relationship, in a parking lot. Cars have gotten smarter, but this bordered on sentience.

It turns out I had left the key in the center cupholder. I wondered if its rhythmic beeping was Morse code for “You moron!” The key and car talk to each other, using a radio signal to determine whether my finger on the button and my foot on the brake should start the engine.

This sudden surge of technological competence leaves me feeling infantilized. I haven’t yet filled its tank with gas, but I’m pretty sure one of us will want to be burped afterwards.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

→ 6 CommentsTags: arr-gee thumbnails · Deep · Grins

We’ve Traded Curves for Cliffs

June 26th, 2015 · No Comments

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We’ve traded the curve for the cliff. The short-term effect has to do with how we’re taught, but the long-term difference is about how and what we learn.

Put aside for five minutes the real and tangible loss of play and curiosity when teachers are incentivized to “teach to the test.” Never mind for a moment whether the federal government should ever have stuck its pudgy hand into the cookie jar of education. Those debates are worth having, but not today.

Oregon just made it easier for families and children to opt out of standardized tests. Oregon House Bill 2655 will allow children to skip the tests for the next six years with no more reason from parents than that the tests will “harsh the bliss” of their loved one. The deed is done.

Lake Woebegone has gotten awfully crowded. Everyone wants to live in a place where all the children are above average. But that’s a world where average is no longer average, and it’s not as pleasant a place as parents and others imagine.

I grew up in a time where teachers and students understood that grades would be given on a curve. An average grade was a C, meaning it was the most common. If you got an A or an F, it told you something about your place in the class. You were exceptional — but more importantly, the world adhered to a recognized order.

Curves are navigable. Cliffs are not.

Today the only grade students expect is an A. Everyone expects to leave with a trophy. All the children are above average. Failing to get an A is just that — failure. A grade has become a commodity. Students are consumers, and the grade is what they get for their money — or their parents’ money. The learning itself is lost in that equation.

We start with the assumption of excellence, five stars, thumbs up, blue ribbon, first place. Any outcome less than that is a severe let-down. There’s nearly perfect and there’s utter failure, with nothing in between. If you’re not soaring above the standards, you’re plummeting to rock bottom.

I’m not defending standardized tests. I’d be happy if we could do away with tests, but I don’t want to get rid of standards.

Grades and scores and ratings have gained such influence over people’s lives, it’s all starting to feel like fate. Your scores get you into a school. Your GPA gets you a job. Your credit rating gets you a house.

It doesn’t stop with scholastics. It’s seeping into our daily lives. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote this month that Uber drivers were avoiding her because she had earned a user rating of “only” four stars. She learned that she had to be more chatty with drivers to get her “grade” up.

When somebody as successful as Dowd is changing her behavior with taxi drivers, we know we’re wandering into a place where none of us are safe. Getting your grades up is becoming a way of life.

Dowd revealed that drivers drop their passengers with an invented departure greeting: “Five for five!” Translation: “I’ll give you five stars if you give me five stars.” That’s teaching to the test.

If only perfect scores are acceptable, the scores themselves won’t be valuable for very long. If everybody’s above average, average eventually will catch up. Four stars isn’t good enough, not even for Maureen Dowd.

Whatever the self-esteem movement believes it may have accomplished, the esteem movement continues to wield its influence. Standardized tests represent some attempt — however flawed — to show students how they compare with their peers on a range of subject matters.

The tests themselves can always be improved. Accountability for teachers and schools must be adjusted for sociological and economic factors that are sometimes difficult to measure. We can never stop trying to lighten government’s heavy hand.

But we must find a way to keep the scores themselves, and the standards they represent. Opting out of the tests won’t protect children from eventually finding out how they compare against whatever standards have been set.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

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Paper Trails

June 12th, 2015 · 2 Comments

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There has been much talk over the past couple of weeks about the future of the “paper” part of this — and all other — newspapers. Readers continue to ask whether this newspaper will continue printing seven days a week, even though the question has been answered.

The short answer, provided by both outgoing publisher Tony Baker and incoming publisher Chris Anderson, is “Yes.” The long answer is, “Probably not forever.” In an age of all things digital, what very recently seemed an exotic alternative now appears almost inevitable. The transition process has not yet begun, but the conversation about that process is well underway.

To that conversation, please add this.

I have a bookshelf in the front room of my house, filled with every book I read or tried to read for my first two decades of my adulthood. You could be excused if you saw no connection between Dave Berry and Wendell Berry, between the early work of C.S. Lewis and the later work of Lewis Carroll, or between Houdini’s book on magic and Mark Twain’s writings about publishing. There is no connection, except me.

A man once accompanied his wife to a party at my house and he never made it past that front room. “You can tell a lot about a person by the books they keep,” he told me. “You are a wide man, as far as interests go.” The dimension he mentioned wasn’t literal, but it was true.

He couldn’t do the same today. Most of what I’ve read in the past 20 years has been on-line or with e-readers. They’re not real books anymore. None of my earlier books had password protection. They had weight and width. I occasionally thumb through one, for no particular purpose. I might read some notes in the margin that I no longer remember having written.

I have now 20 years of books that I can see but don’t remember, along with 20 years of newer books that I remember but cannot see.

I don’t know about you, but I benefit from feeling the end of a book approaching. I thumb ahead to count down the pages. The back cover of the book pulls me toward it, like a child smelling grilled burgers swims back to shore. The smell of what’s next makes the ending easier to take.

We’re asking the next generation to do without most of that.

Tell me now: when are you finished reading the news? Without physical newspapers stacking up, how will you know when you’ve fallen behind? My iPad weighs the same, whether it’s carrying three unread newspapers or none. No matter how much I’ve read, there’s always more. There are hyperlinks I could have clicked, more scrolling I could have done.

Yes, I know that scrolling is an apt metaphor, harkening back to the printed word before books. But that was also before most people could read. Books brought a golden age of literacy — or maybe the only age of literacy. People learned to read in part for the satisfaction of having read. The final 100 pages of any book are always easier than the first 100, because completion awaits, flipping burgers on the shore.

When the first iPhone appeared in our palms, the engineers gave its interface mechanical signals to comfort new users. Scroll wheels make little clicking noises. Swipe the image past its top or bottom and it has a playful little bounce at the end. These subtle signals are profound. They express “enough.”

What does “enough” look like in a digital world? Are we thinking that one through? Have we worried about its absence enough?

Video game designers pull out all the stops when you win their game. Music plays. Fireworks burst across the screen. There’s your moment, with your name in lights! You did it!

Finish an ebook or any newspaper online and what do you get? With an ebook, you might see a blank page, or links to other books somebody thinks you’ll like. With an electronic newspaper, there is no end. That could spell trouble.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

→ 2 CommentsTags: arr-gee thumbnails · Deep · Media · Psycho

Eastern Oregon: Our Nearby Nowhere

June 12th, 2015 · 1 Comment

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Oregon may soon lift its ban on motorists pumping their own gas in the state’s least populated areas. Legislation would allow for the first time counties with fewer than 40,000 residents to keep self-service pumps turned on when no owner, operator or employee is around to dispense gasoline. It passed the Oregon House unanimously. The Oregon Senate this week made a few tweaks and passed it back to the House.

Oregon’s ongoing refusal to allow self-service gasoline is rich in romance. If you’re a glass-half-empty sort of person, you might view any change as a loss of one of Oregon’s quirkiest distinctions. Oregon has refused to allow motorists to pump their own gas for no good reason except that it makes us different from every other state — except New Jersey.

That’s not much of a distinction. Oregonians probably don’t care whether they keep that special bond with the so-called Garden State. New Jersey may love its gardens, but that’s only evidence for how much cultivation the state has accepted. Oregon, on the other hand, still has vast swaths of bare in the east and wild in the west.

It is on this point that the half-full sorts can see this proposed change as an affirmation of a different, more durable distinction Oregon can and should claim. If you drive east from here, you don’t have to go very far until you are in the middle of nowhere. No cell phone signal, no lights visible in any direction, no sign of anyone anywhere. That’s not only possible in eastern Oregon; it’s almost unavoidable.

I remember listening to the radio news the first week I lived in Eugene. The lead story of the day concerned a Eugene man whose parked car had been found on a forest road southeast of the city. Rescue crews had already fanned out from there, but authorities were concerned that the man may not have survived.

I listened carefully, because the story didn’t quite make sense to me. At first I thought the man must have been famous and the spot where he was last seen was far away. But neither was true. This was a regular guy. He could have been any of us. And the area where he was lost was very nearby.

I grew up in Chicago, went to school in New England, then worked for my first newspapers in southern California. I didn’t know there were places left in the lower 48 states where you could lose your way and also lose your life. (I suppose that could also happen to you in New Jersey, but your ill fate in that case would probably involve other people.)

Allowing tourists to get gas after dark in eastern Oregon isn’t likely to save any lives, but it could sure feel that way if you’re lost with a minivan full of exhausted children. Gas station owners in Oregon’s outback all have stories of coming to work in the morning, greeted by a groggy or sleeping motorist who literally didn’t know which way to turn.

If we get self-service gas for these regions, and then add a few strategically located vending machines for humans to refuel, we could enhance something that almost no other state can offer — nothing; long stretches of nothing on top of nothing.

I’ve heard experts speculate that there may be portions of the Coast Range that are so overgrown or craggy that they may never have been trodden by humans.

Think about that for a moment. If you’re determined and skilled, you might cut your way through some underbrush and stand in a place where no human has ever stood. That’s not something you could possibly accomplish in New Jersey.

Tom McCall famously bragged about Oregon: “Come visit us again and again. But for heaven’s sake, don’t come here to live.” Today’s advertising consultants would complain only that he used more words than modern attentions can span.

McCall’s campaign could be updated: “Oregon: Get Lost!”

That would be safer and easier if gasoline became more available.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs.

→ 1 CommentTags: Arr-Gee published · Civic · Pure Pol · Upper-Left-Edge

Bakers’ Newspaper Legacy Surrounds Us

June 5th, 2015 · 3 Comments

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If there’s ever a middle of a legacy, this newspaper is in it right now. After 88 years, the Baker family has handed the reins to Chris Anderson, the former publisher of The (Portland) Oregonian. The family plans to retain ownership and continue its day-to-day involvement, while preparing its next generation of leaders.

Tony Baker led this newspaper as publisher for 28 years. He followed his uncle, who followed his father, who followed his grandfather. The family has led Eugene’s daily newspaper since 1927. That was not a good year to start a business venture, but the Bakers’ history with newspapering was by then already well underway. The family’s story — it’s not too soon to call it a legacy — already was taking shape.

That story begins in 1898 in Cleveland, Ohio. A businessman named Liberty Holden bought the Cleveland Plain Dealer, but found himself ill-equipped to run a daily newspaper. What he did next changed journalism as we know it.

Holden hired not one executive to replace himself, but two. He poached the Cleveland Leader’s advertising manager, Tony Baker’s great-grandfather, Elbert Baker, to run the business end of his operation. And he hired Charles Kennedy from St. Louis to run the newsroom. These two men were described in legal papers as “co-lessees” — like roommates sharing and inhabiting the Fourth Estate.

Elbert took the title of general manager and quickly defied convention with a couple of innovative business policies. He told his advertisers what the newspaper’s actual circulation was, even though that number was lower than his sales staff had been quoting. And then he published a rate card, dictating that every advertiser would pay the same amount.

Taken together, Cleveland’s newspaper established a foundation of honesty and integrity with its advertisers and its readers. When Alton Baker came to Eugene and bought the Eugene Guard in 1927, he followed his father’s lead, earning the trust of skeptical business leaders. But the Bakers were just getting started.

During that era, only the New York Times and a couple of other big city newspapers gave its readers a full slate of political endorsements. Why choose sides at all if it’s not necessary? What business would purposely risk angering up to half of its customers?

Today it seems necessary to us, but only because Elbert Baker’s conviction brought it to community newspapering. The Bakers brought that sort of editorial courage to smaller markets like Cleveland and then Eugene.

The Bakers imagined a newspaper not as THE citizen of A community, but as A citizen of ITS community. Those words were probably written by this newspaper’s legendary editor William Tugman, but the words simply expressed the vision that the newspaper’s owners had already been living.

The Bakers introduced a fourth concept to community newspapering that might never have become reality without them. They wove community philanthropy tightly into their newspaper management ethic. They have always believed that the newspaper’s role in civic leadership cannot — must not — be separated from the overall well-being of the community whose trust it aims to earn.

Alton Baker Park commemorates that civic leadership. The Baker family did not donate the land. They led the effort to secure that riverfront property and to preserve it for all Eugeneans to enjoy for generations to come.

Ted and Marie Baker continued the family legacy into this generation by leading the Eugene Public Library Foundation’s fund-raising effort to build our downtown library.

The number of community projects in between that the Bakers have spearheaded defy the imagination. Very few communities have benefitted from three successive generations of continuous vision and benevolence. We’re in the middle of that legacy right now.

It’s a good time to wonder what the next three generations will bring. However the newspaper evolves, we can be sure it will remain a citizen of its community.

Eugene played a central role in remaking community journalism almost a century ago. What it becomes a century from now could be taking shape right here again, with all of us in the middle of it.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

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A Little Summer FUFFFery

May 29th, 2015 · 1 Comment

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Fifth Friday Footnotes, Follow-ups and Far-Flung Fripperies:

  • What happened to the pitcher’s wind-up? It just disappeared without a trace.
  • Footnotes are due for a big comeback. I’d explain why, but most readers wouldn’t care.
  • I bought a used memory foam mattress, but now I lose sleep worrying about what it remembers.
  • I can’t bear to use post em notes for notes that won’t be posted. Even if it’s nothing more than a lick of adhesive on the back, it feels wasteful.
  • We all want to defeat the current band of Sunni rebels. Can we first agree what to call them? The White House prefers ISIL, but we’d already learned to call them ISIS. Now some media have adopted their self-proclaimed title, Islamic State. Our front is not exactly united.
  • By the way, a similar problem plagued the early years of combatting Al Qaeda. Federal agencies couldn’t agree on a uniform spelling for various watch lists.
  • Sometimes I’m busy but bored. Does that ever happen to you?
  • Eastern Oregon: it’s our nearby nowhere.
  • Large organizations don’t suffer from over-lawyering as much as under-leadering. Lawyers advise leaders, but so do janitors and office supply purchasers. Legal advice shouldn’t be taken as a command. Helpless leaders but don’t inspire.
  • Except for the flying part, haven’t our cars become everything we expected from jet packs?
  • I wonder how many modern maladies are rooted in boredom and ennui. We can treat anxiety, rage, sadness, but what about the tragic sensation that there’s nothing really going on?
  • Adolescence has become continuous. I blame “new math.” We removed rote learning because it was boring for the adults, not understanding the comfort its mastery gave children. They play video games now to fill that hole, but without an endpoint — like a bottomless stack of flashcards.
  • The phrase “full flight” means three or four completely different things.
  • The world got better when it somehow became cool to be uncool.
  • If you’re looking for the world’s most sustainable energy, I’d start with hope.
  • Inevitability is a weak-minded shortcut, a lazy mad-lib, a comfortable despair.
  • I wish we could tax every “if only” and give the money to every “so that.”
  • When was the last time you were irked? Have you forgotten how good it felt?
  • Good design is articulated intent.
  • I’m surprised toilet paper manufacturers haven’t touted 3-ply and 4-ply alternatives. What has prevented a ply war?
  • Now that I’ve learned my lucky bamboo isn’t technically bamboo, how can I be sure it’s really lucky?
  • If I haven’t made a list, it’s not long before I begin feeling listless.
  • Do eggs, when still in their shell, have a right-side up?
  • Nobody feels glum anymore.
  • More than we’ll admit, we choose feeling like good parents over whatever is best for our children.
  • How did sea salt become better than just plain salt?
  • Isn’t it odd that every meeting lasts an hour, regardless of the topic’s complexity?
  • Large RVs seldom are painted red. I guess they don’t want to be mistaken for a firetruck. Or a barn.
  • Is there a worse feeling than being halfway through a book before remembering that you read it before?
  • Let’s just say “kindred” sometimes sounds like two words to me.
  • I love window shopping, but only if it involves buying actual windows.
  • The primary purpose of hot salsa is to sell more medium salsa.
  • Is there any road in Eugene more useful and less used than the Northwest Expressway?
  • Hopeless romantic? There’s no other kind.
  • Clutter is cowardice. There’s courage in completion.
  • Resilient is the new sustainable.
  • When you work for Les Schwab, “retirement” sounds like a second career very similar to your first.
  • When a frozen food’s “Best By” date is sometime in 2018, how good could “best” be?
  • I can’t prove it, but I suspect the Kristens and the Kirstens of the next generation are conspiring to embarrass us.
  • I hope somebody got paid well to rebrand polyester as “micro-fiber” because they earned it. (They got a big assist from cotton’s “thread-count” goofiness.)
  • None of us get what we deserve. And for that, every day, we should be thankful.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

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